Thursday, October 04, 2012

Professor/Detectives: The Mysteries and Knowledge of Carole Shmurak

Carole Shmurak
It's a pleasure to welcome Carole Shmurak as guest author here today. We share authorship in Stacy Juba's amazing authors' anthology 25 Years in the Rear View Mirror -- and I was excited to discover the her extensive background in "academic mysteries." One of my (s)heroes is Harriet Vane, sleuthing partner to Lord Peter Wimsey, and I hoped she might make Carole's list, but a little research proved Harriet had not taught at her college (even though she may have prepared research on Sheridan Le Fanu). Welcome to Kingdom Books, Carole, and thanks for sharing your knowledge and research with us!
Academic Sleuths: A Brief History

Before I set out to write my Susan Lombardi series of mysteries, I had been a longtime fan of academic mysteries.  Academic mysteries are usually set at colleges or universities, although there are some set at the elite British or American private school, and more recently some at American public schools. In many academic mysteries, the protagonist is a police officer investigating a murder in the ivy-covered halls. As a cop, he or she is an outsider and the world of academe is an alien culture.  Paula Gosling’s Monkey Puzzle and Reginald Hill’s An Advancement of Learning are good examples of this.
But there is another subset of the genre: those in which the detective is an insider — a professor.  And this is the tradition that I set out to learn about before I published my first mystery Deadmistress. It turns out that the professor/sleuth has a long history.  The first academic detective, Jacques Futrelle’s Augustus Van Dusen (better known as The Thinking Machine) appeared in 1906, closely followed by Austin Freeman’s John Thorndyke. Both Professor Van Dusen and Dr. Thorndyke have multiple academic credentials, though their stories are not often set on college campuses.
I also found several trends in the history of academic sleuths:

·      With the exception of one classicist, the first professor/detectives tended to be scientists.
·      The first English professor appeared in 1944 — Gervase Fen of Oxford, the wonderful creation of Edmund Crispin.   
·      The first female professor didn’t appear until 1964, when Carolyn Heilbrun of Columbia University created her Kate Fansler series; this scarcity of female professors in detective fiction is probably a good reflection of college faculties prior to the 1960s.  (On the other hand the fictional sleuths who were K–12 teachers were all female, again reflecting reality.)

            When female detectives started to appear in large numbers in the 1980s, they occupied every rung of the social ladder and worked in a great variety of jobs: housemaids, taxi drivers, lawyers, actresses, policewomen, private eyes, and CEOs. So it was inevitable that some of these detectives would be professors, and, as it turned out, an overwhelming number of these were professors of English. Heilbrun had made mystery writing almost respectable for English professors, and many of them wrote mysteries with protagonists like themselves. So the last twenty years of detective fiction has seen a turnaround, both in the number of women and the number of English professors with a flair for the mysterious.  The scientific detective has been replaced by the literary one.
            There are no professors of education, like my Susan Lombardi, and, more surprisingly, very few professors of psychology; the only one I could find among the contemporary detectives was Maggie Ryan, an educational psychologist and statistician created by P.M. Carlson. So while I’m pleased that Susan is a part of a long tradition of academic sleuths, I’m also happy that she is unique as well.

Carole's Susan Lombardi mysteries
Below is a chronological list of academic detectives; it is a representative, rather than a comprehensive, list. For each detective, I’ve listed his/her academic field, the author who created the detective, the date and title of the first story, and whether it is part of a series.

Professor Augustus S.F.X. Van Dusen, Ph.D., L.L.D., M.D., F.R.S., M.D.S.
Jacques Futrelle,The Thinking Machine (1906). (short stories)

Dr. John Thorndyke, Professor of Medical Jurisprudence at St. Mary’s Hospital and barrister-at-law, London. R. Austin Freeman, The Red Thumb Mark (1907). (series)

Craig Kennedy, professor of chemistry at Columbia University.
Arthur B. Reeve, Silent Bullet (1912). (series)

Dr. Lancelot Priestley, former professor of applied mathematics at a British university. John Rhode , Dr. Priestley’s Quest (1926). (series)

Henry Poggiolo, professor of psychology, Ohio State University.
T.S. Stribling, Clues of the Caribbees (1929).

Cyrus Hatch, professor of criminology.
Frederick C. Davis. Coffins for Three (1938). (series)

Theocritus Lucius Westborough, professor of classics.
Clyde B. Clason, Man from Tibet (1938). (series)

Peter Utley Shane, professor sociology and criminology, University of Chicago.
Francis Bonnamy, Dead Reckoning (1943). (series)

Gervase Fen, professor of English language and literature, Oxford University.
Edmund Crispin,The Case of the Gilded Fly (aka Obsequies at Oxford) (1944). (series)

Professor Pennyfeather, professor of literature. D.B. Olsen, Love Me in Death (1951).

Kate Fansler, professor of English, large prestigious university in New York City. Amanda Cross,  In the Last Analysis (1964). (series)

Nicky Welt, professor of English language and literature, a New England college. Harry Kemelman, Nine Mile Walk (1967).

Dame Millicent Hetherege, professor of medieval literature, Wilton University, New England. Robert Bernard, Deadly Meeting (1970).

Peter Shandy, professor of botany, Balaclava Agricultural College, MA.
Charlotte MacLeod, Rest Ye Merry (1978). (series)

Nan Weaver, professor of English, University of California Berkeley.
Valerie Miner, Murder in the English Department (1982).

Sarah Deane, professor of English, Bowmouth College, ME.
J.S. Borthwick, The Case of the Hook-Billed Kites (1982). (series)

Roz Howard, professor of English, Canterbury College, ME.
Susan Kenney, Garden of Malice (1983). (series)

Maggie Ryan, educational psychologist and statistical consultant.
P.M. Carlson, Murder is Academic (1985). (series)

Loretta Lawson, professor of English at London University.
Joan Smith, A Masculine Ending (1987). (series)

Carl Burns, chair of English department, Hartley Gorman College, TX.
Bill Crider, One Dead Dean (1988). (series)

Beth Austin, professor of English, Midwestern University.
Edith Skom, The Mark Twain Murders (1989). (series)

Joanne Kilbourn, professor of political science, Canadian university.
Gail Bowen, Deadly Appearance (1990). (series)

Nick Hoffman, professor of English, State University of Michigan.
Lev Raphael, Let’s Get Criminal (1996). (series)

Karen Pelletier, professor of English, Enfield College, MA.
Joanne Dobson, Quieter than Sleep (1997). (series)

Susan Lombardi, professor of education, Metropolitan University, CT.
Carole B. Shmurak, Deadmistress (2004). (series)

Carole B. Shmurak, Professor Emerita at Central Connecticut State University, is the author of eleven books, including  Deadmistress, which introduced professor/sleuth Susan Lombardi, Death by Committee, Death at Hilliard High and Most Likely to Murder.   Under the pseudonym Carroll Thomas, she is the co-author of the Matty Trescott young adult novels, one of which (Ring Out Wild Bells) was nominated for the Agatha for best young adult mystery of 2001.
  You can find Carole online at:
Facebook author page,
SPECIAL TREAT: Pick up a free copy of the anthology 25 Years in the Rear View Mirror with this link: At checkout, type this code: KP74F. Many thanks to editor Stacy Juba for making this available! 

PS -- Beth's blogging today at Carole's site: -- come visit!


Stacy Juba said...

Very interesting post! I didn't realize there was such an extensive history of academic mysteries - I enjoyed reading about it.

Carole Shmurak said...

Thanks, Stacy. I remember how delighted many of us were when the first few Amanda Cross/Kate Fansler mysteries appeared - academic mysteries with a female professor! I tried reading one recently and didn't like it at all!

Anonymous said...

I missed a lot of these. (And, oh, to have a time machine: my late professor father would have loved some of these.)